No Social Cleansing in Lewisham: Please Join the New Campaign!

3.12.17

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham! The logo for the new campaign, designed by Lilah Francis of the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign.Please visit and like the No Social Cleansing in Lewisham Facebook page!

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Back in October, after being hit by a number of pieces of bad news regarding the state of social housing in Lewisham, I rather impetuously came up with a name for a campaign and a rallying cry — No Social Cleansing in Lewisham — and emailed Deptford’s legendary live venue, the Birds Nest, to ask if they would host a night of music, consciousness-raising and and solidarity, to which they said yes.

I had been encouraged to think that a gig in defence of social housing — essentially, not-for-profit rented housing, typically available for no more than a third of what unregulated private rents cost — was possible because, contrary to popular notions that politics has no place in music, which is assiduously promoted by the corporate media, my own band, The Four Fathers, refused the imperative to be bland and non-confrontational, and I had been meeting appropriate performers over the previous year — the acclaimed spoken word artist Potent Whisper, whose work is relentlessly political, the Commie Faggots, who play theatrical singalong political songs, and Asher Baker, a singer-songwriter and rapper from Southwark.

Potent Whisper and I had got to know each other online, and had then both played at a benefit for housing campaigners in Haringey in September, which was a particularly inspirational evening. I’d seen the Commie Faggots play at an open mic event in New Cross, and had then put on an event with them for the Telegraph Hill Festival, and Asher and I had met when we were both on the bill for an evening at the New Cross Inn. I then added people I met recently — the fabulous all-women Ukadelix, and local spoken word artist Agman Gora — and, with the last-minute addition of the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir, had a powerful evening of protest music lined up for a great night of conscious partying.

The end result was a wonderful event, which exceeded my wildest expectations. The pub was packed, the performers were uniformly excellent, and the vibe was electric. I wrote enthusiastically about it here, and posted photos here and here (the latter by local resident and researcher Anita Strasser), and I’m now engaged in planning a second ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ gig, as well as trying to revisit the format for other boroughs where social housing is threatened with destruction and redevelopment. Get in touch if you can help in any way!

I then set up the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham‘ Facebook page (two weeks ago, on November 20), to provide a focal point for information about the various campaigns, which I invite you to join, and I’ll be setting up a Twitter account soon. And again, if you can help in any way with these social media projects, do get in touch.

To be blunt, the impetus for social cleansing from councils (of all political persuasions) and housing associations has reached epidemic-style proportions in London — and, indeed across the UK — threatening to totally destroy social housing without concerted resistance. Starved of funds by central government, councils are entering into deals with private developers, which involve council estates being demolished, new, private developments being built instead, and the former residents scattered to the winds.

Housing associations, in the meantime, are responding to the changed economic climate by becoming private developers themselves, sidelining the provision of genuinely affordable housing with properties built for profit, and everyone is caught up in cynical semantic games, and deals masquerading as fair when they are no such thing. So, for example, new developments generally include few or no properties at social rent — the genuinely affordable amount — but more for what is labelled as “affordable”, even though that rate was set by former London Mayor Boris Johnson at 80% of market rents, and is therefore not affordable at all. The other great scam is part-ownership, where, for much more than social rent, tenants are encouraged to buy a percentage of the property, while continuing to pay rent — a deal whereby, typically, they will never actually end up owning anything in an meaningful sense.

In the London Borough of Lewisham, the struggles that caused me to set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ in the first place are still very much alive, and causing considerable stress and consternation to those affected. The most immediate cause of concern is Old Tidemill Garden and a block of council flats at 2-30a Reginald Road, whose destruction was approved by Lewisham Council in September, despite the garden being a great community space and a huge environmental asset, and despite the fact that there is no fundamental structural problem with the block of 16 flats.

Having failed to accept an offer, made by campaigners, to provide alternative plans that would not need to involve the destruction of either the garden or the flats, the council is determined to press ahead with the sites’ destruction. The developers Family Mosaic (now merged with Peabody) and Sherrygreen Homes are promising a decent provision of socially rented homes on the new site, but campaigners maintain that an alternative plan that don’t involve the destruction of the garden and the Reginald Road flats is the only responsible way forward, and fear for the integrity of any replacement housing offered — in which properties would almost certainly be smaller, and without security of tenure, and in which it is difficult — no matter what the council says — to imagine that there will not be a significant increase in their rents. For leaseholders (those who believed Margaret Thatcher’s promise about social tenants buying their own homes), the fears are that (a) they won’t be offered an amount that will enable them to buy a new property in the area, and (b) if they return to a new flat in the new development, it will only be on a shared ownership basis and/or will involve high service charges.

Campaigners are meeting in the garden every Saturday from 12-3pm to work on resisting the council’s plans, with banner-making and opportunities for like-minded people to meet. It’s a wonderful space, where a marquee has been set up, and there is also a fire through the winter months. For further information about the Tidemill campaign, see my post on the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ page here.

Below, via YouTube, is a London Live report about Tidemill and Reginald Road from October 3, after Lewisham Council confirmed its decision to proceed with the garden’s destruction:

The second major campaign involves the Achilles Street estate in New Cross, between New Cross Road and Fordham Park, which the council wants to demolish and replace with a new development. Campaigners (see The Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign on Facebook, and the busy Save Achilles Area Twitter account here) argue that the estate can be refurbished, and, as with Deptford, fear that, despite the council’s reassurances that their housing requirements will be provided for in the new development, that will not turn out to be true. The council, undoubtedly stung by criticism of its Tidemill plans, keeps putting off its meeting to confirm the Achilles Street plans, but that is not a recipe for complacency, and those who care about keeping this estate — and the many shops adjoining it across New Cross Road and down Clifton Way by The Venue — need to maintain vigilance, and, through protests and publicity, remind the council that they’re not giving up, and will not remain silent. See the post about Achilles Street on the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ Facebook page here.

A third, rather more complicated campaign involves the boating community on Deptford Creek, by the Birds Nest, and three sites on the other side of Creekside, where developers are proposing inappropriate new housing developments, and information about these developments can be found in a post on the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ Facebook page here.

There is, sadly, much more going on in Lewisham which I don’t have the space to cover here, although I will be covering them in due course on the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ Facebook page. Come and join us to find out more!

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

 

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    It’s two weeks since I set up the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ campaign, to provide a focal point for various campaigns against the destruction of council estates, the loss of community space, and inappropriate and unaffordable housing developments in the London Borough of Lewisham, following a powerful, packed-out benefit gig at the Birds Nest pub in Deptford. Do like the page if you haven’t already, and check out the particular campaigns that are the current focus of concern – the destruction of Old Tidemill Garden and a block of flats on Reginald Road in Deptford (approved by Lewisham Council in September), the proposed destruction of the Achilles Street estate and shops in New Cross, and developments on Creekside and Deptford Creek.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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